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Legislature passes first Identity Theft Bill

By Katelyn Gendron-List, Staff Writer

WESTFIELD Last week both the Massachusetts State House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously passed a new piece of identity theft legislation that further protects residents of the Commonwealth from security breaches of their personal information and their credit reports.

What were once two bills, Senate Bill 2235 and House Bill 4018, the Identity Theft Conference Committee compiled a report to compile them into one piece of legislation called the Security Breaches and the Protection of Personal Information Act.

According to Don Humason, Jr., Massachusetts State Representative (R-Westfield) and member of the Identity Theft Bill Conference Committee, the committee worked many hours to condense the two bills into one solid piece of legislation that protects Massachusetts residents from of the growing phenomenon of identity theft.

"I cannot think of a more important piece of consumer protection legislation to date as identity theft is becoming more predominant," Michael Rodrigues, House Representative (D-Westport), and chairman of the Committee on Consumer Protection, said in an interview with Reminder Publications. "It was imperative that the Legislature act quickly on this legislation during this session."

According to Humason, this new legislation establishes consumer rights and specifications on protocols that businesses must adhere to when they experience a security breach.

Consumers now have the right to request a "security freeze" on their credit report from the three major credit agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, whether they have been a victim of identity theft or not. The freeze, which must be sent to the credit agencies in writing, would protect the consumer from someone trying to open a credit-based account under their name, Humason said. However this also means that the consumer would not be able to open a credit-based account either.

"A freeze does not hurt a person's credit record," Humason said. "The big agencies are still collecting information on a person's credit but they will not divulge that information to anyone that wants to open a credit-based account under that name."

Humason went on to state that if the consumer wishes to open a new credit-based account they may request a "thaw" for a certain period of time or specific retailer. This will allow the account to be open and then the freeze to continue on thereafter.

If a consumer wishes to get rid of the freeze altogether they may request a "freeze removal" from the credit agencies, Humason added.

Under this new legislation, a person that has been a victim of identity theft must go to any police department in their county or to the city in which the breach occurred and file a police report. Then they can request a free freeze on their credit reports, Humason said. However any Massachusetts resident that has not been a victim of identity theft may also request a freeze for a $5 fee per credit agency.

"This will be a vital tool in ensuring that the citizens of Massachusetts have sufficient measures to protect themselves from identity theft," Michael Knapik, Massachusetts State Senator (R-Westfield) said of the passing of the identity theft legislation in the Senate.

According to Humason, this legislation defines security breaches and also establishes requirements for businesses on how to inform consumers when there has been a breach in their security. The consumer must be notified by the institution in writing or e-mail and they must also notify the public on the news or on their website.

Now that this legislation has been passed in the Legislature, state officials are now waiting for Governor Deval Patrick to sign the legislation so that it may become law.

Humason and Rodrigues both stated that neither of them anticipate any delay, as they expect the governor to sign the bill at some point within the next 10 days.

"We worked very closely with the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs and he's told me personally that he can't wait to sign the bill," Rodrigues said.